Tue, 18 Apr 2000

Aceh senior police officer dismissed, probed

JAKARTA (JP): A senior police officer in Aceh has been removed from his post and officially put under investigation following allegations of human rights abuses, National Police chief Lt. Gen. Rusdihardjo said on Monday.

Col. Yusuf Muharram was replaced as head of the Sadar Rencong Task Force by Col. Sumantiawan, formerly Aceh Police deputy chief, on Wednesday. Confirmation only came on Monday, after it was first disclosed by President Abdurrahman Wahid in Hong Kong on Sunday.

An internal investigation has been launched into Yusuf's performance as head of the joint military and police operation to quell an armed separatist movement and restore peace in Aceh.

A special police team has also been established to further investigate Yusuf, Rusdihardjo said.

"We are still probing the case to determine whether a crime has been committed or whether it was simply a case of wrongful judgment," Rusdihardjo said after greeting President Abdurrahman at Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma Airport.

The President, who flew in from Hong Kong, said on Sunday that he had asked Rusdihardjo to replace Yusuf and if necessary to initiate a prosecution in view of the allegations.

Abdurrahman said Yusuf ordered the burning of people, houses and schools in Aceh.

Yusuf's previous stints include the chief of East Timor Police in 1996.

Hundreds of people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the inception of Sadar Rencong operation early last year. Yusuf was in charge of the third phase of the operation, which began in February.

Rusdihardjo promised to follow up on the President's remarks. "We will resolve it thoroughly," he said.

In Banda Aceh, Yusuf accepted his dismissal gracefully but defended his record in running the task force operation.

As he was preparing to leave Banda Aceh, he told reporters that as an officer, he was obliged to obey orders given by his superiors, including his removal from his post.

Yusuf said he had done his best in carrying out his duty to restore security and order in Aceh and that he had taken all possible measures to protect the interests of Acehnese people.

"I have done the best that I could. I don't feel I have committed any error during my time. People here gladly accept our presence," he said shortly before his departure.

Yusuf refused to comment on the President's accusations. "You yourselves can see what I have done here," Yusuf remarked.

Separately, six explosions rocked several locations in Banda Aceh, Pidie and North Aceh regencies over the weekend.

"The explosions, which startled the people in the three districts, happened almost simultaneously when Muslims were just finishing their evening prayer at around 6:50 p.m.," spokesman for the Sadar Rencong operation, Col. Safri D.M., said on Monday.

There were no reports of casualties or injuries.

The explosions damaged a house rented by a police officer in North Aceh and a traffic police post in Banda Aceh.

In Pidie, a bomb and a grenade were tossed during an attack by suspected armed rebels on the subdistrict military post in Beureuneun, Safri said. (50/51/edt/prb)